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Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series – Moving Forward From Amazon

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series

 Moving Forward From Amazon

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In the previous blog post, Manuel went over some great strategy and techniques on how you can pitch your products to retailers and wholesalers across the world.

Today’s blog post marks the final blog post of this great series. This post will be all about thinking forward and expanding your business into other areas.

Expand Into The Other Amazon Global Markets

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Amazon is still the number one E-commerce marketplace in the world, and it will be for a long time. Although we believe that Amazon has some disadvantages for sellers who wish to have complete control over their business, you should always list your product there. Currently the markets which we recommend expanding to, are:

  • Amazon EU(UK & Germany should be a priority).
  • Amazon Japan

These marketplaces have a much lower volume than their US counterpart, however, the traffic and sales are increasing year-on-year and Amazon has been investing heavily to attract buyers & sellers to their marketplaces outside the US.

Expand Into Other E-Commerce Marketplaces 

There are a number of ECommerce marketplaces that allow you to list your products, some also have a similar fulfillment service like Amazon FBA. While not all ECommerce marketplaces are ideal(some have very low sales volume), this will allow you to increase your brand visibility and target markets which your competition is unlikely to target.

In my opinion, the marketplaces that make the most sense to register a seller account are:

  • Walmart & JET
  • Newegg
  • Sears
  • Ebay
  • Rakuten

Focus On Growing Your Online Store

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Having your own ECommerce store is the only to have complete control over your brand & pricing. One of the things I like about having an ECommerce store is that I have complete freedom when it comes to:

  • Creating special offers/giveaways.
  • Store Design & Branding
  • Customized Packaging
  • Control over Customer Service & Experience

However, the best thing about having your own store is that it’s a challenge! While Amazon definitely needs some mastering – all the buyer traffic is already there! With your own store you need to spend an enormous amount of time dedicated to bringing traffic to your website.

While this requires a lot of hard work and testing, in my opinion, it’s more rewarding and it can be scaled significantly once you have a working formula

Outsourcing

We feel this step is the most important part of any business. A successful business is a scaleable business. While you should always retain control over the key tasks of your business, it is important to delegate tasks, especially those tasks that are time consuming or you have no expertise in.

With the rise of freelancing and outsourcing websites, it is very easy to find very skilled freelancers or companies for your business. In my opinion, these are the tasks that you should definitely outsource: 

Importing

  • Product & Packaging Design
  • Product Inspection
  • Logistics(Freight Forwarder, Warehousing etc)
  • Product Sourcing

Business

  • Legal & Accounting
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Company Branding
  • Graphic Design

Of course, what tasks you outsource depends entirely on you, however, if you want to scale your business and achieve freedom, you need to delegate tasks.

Conclusion

This blog post concludes our Zero To Hero: Building a Brand series, we hope that this series proved helpful in your efforts to build a truly successful and global brand.

Building a brand takes a lot of effort, however with the right strategy in place, you will have a company that has great products and its loved by its customers.

We would appreciate any feedback you have on this series and if there is anything we can help you with, kindly leave a comment below.

All the best & happy selling,

Duncan & Manuel

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Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series – Inventory Storage

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series

Inventory Storage, FBA Prep & Fulfillment Centres

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Welcome to another part of our Building a Brand Blog Series. In last week’s blog post we went over a brief introduction on social media and which social networks are best for Ecommerce sellers or importers.

This week’s blog post will be on a completely different, but equally important subject – Inventory Storage & Fulfillment. When it comes to product-based businesses such as ours, it’s important to not only get your logistics right, but also have the best rates and fast shipping.

I have used both FBM(Fulfilled by Merchant) and also FBA so I will also give my point of view on what works and what doesn’t. Although my main focus is on FBA, I normally still leave some units in a storage facility either to reduce my Amazon fees or to fulfill any orders from my own Ecommerce store.

This blog post will be all about how you can manage your inventory effectively and save fees when compared to Amazon. I will also show you how you can use a third-party fulfillment center to take advantage of busy periods such as the Chinese New Year or the December holiday seasons.

So let’s have a look at what options are there for importers or sellers and explore different ways on how you can manage your inventory effectively.

What To Look For In a Fulfillment Center?

If using a third-party fulfillment centre, ideally it should be as similar to Amazon FBA as possible in terms of service and efficiency. However, here are some features I look for when making my decision:

  • The fulfillment centre should be in a strategic location so I reduce shipping costs from the country of origin.
  • The FC should have a backend software system that enables me to track my inventory  and gather other important data(fees, shipping rates, SKUs comparison, etc.).
  • They should have integrations with all major Ecommerce marketplaces(Ebay, Amazon, Shopify, BigCommerce, etc.). This allows me to manage all my marketplaces(in terms of logistics) from one place.
  • Their shipping rates should be as low as possible and they use all major courier services. Never use a fulfillment center that relies on one courier as it limits your options.
  • If I’m using the fulfillment center exclusively for Amazon, I look for ones that have extensive experience dealing with FBM. The requirements are more strict when it comes to FBM and a few late shipments can compromise your Amazon seller account.

The Benefits of Fulfillment Centers

 Fulfillment centers offer a lot of advantages for ecommerce sellers who want to expand towards other sales channels. Some of the benefits are:

  • Cheaper long term storage than Amazon.
  • Backend dashboard allows you to track inventory and shipping status of your products.
  • Some FCs offer great rates for oversize items and storage.
  • Ultimate control over pricing and customer experience(if selling from your own store).
  • Brand-able shipping packages.
  • No restrictions on inserts or marketing materials.
  • Multiple integrations with eCommerce marketplaces.
  • Ability to process returns easily.
  • FC’s can make custom orders for special clients.

 As you can see, choosing the right fulfillment center has a lot of benefits and if you’re planning on launching your own store, a FC outside of FBA is recommended. 

FBA Prep Companies

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Prep centres are storage facilities specifically used for preparing or assembling your products according to your requirements. FBA prep centres will make sure to prepare your shipments according to Amazon’s guidelines. This service might be very useful if you want to make sure that you have everything in order or if your product(s) come in multiple pieces and need assembly.

Nowadays prep centers have evolved and offer multiple services, including:

  • Goods Inspection.
  • Product Photography.
  • Labeling, Knitting and Bundling.
  • Storage.
  • Inventory Updates.
  • & much more.

Please note that prep centers don’t fulfill any customer orders, they should be exclusively used for storage, inspection and prepping.

Location, Location, Location!

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When choosing a fulfillment center or storage facility, location is very important. Since ideally you want to save on shipping costs from your supplier/manufacturer to the destination(if not an FBA warehouse). When it comes to locations, my preference would be coastal states in the US. In particular:

  • New York
  • California

 If your supplier is in China or any other Asian country, Los Angeles would be my choice. LA has both the busiest port and airport in the US in terms of cargo, making it an ideal destination to ship your inventory. Also, a lot of fulfillment centers and storage facilities are situated around LAX airport or close to the port.

Shipping your goods domestically will always be cheaper, so the only way to save time and money with your imports is to pick the closest location in the US from your supplier/manufacturer.

Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment

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Image Source: Forbes

Amazon’s multi-channel fulfillment service where you can use FBA to fulfill third-party orders such as Ebay or your own ecommerce store. This is extremely convenient if you want to have all the shipping and fulfillment in one place. However, in my opinion, the

Amazon fees are quite high and you even have to pay extra to have a multi-channel order.

If you don’t have a lot of sales from other channels you can use Amazon’s multi-channel fulfillment, however, if you really want ultimate control over pricing and customer experience on your own website, you should pick a third-party FC.

Conclusion

Fulfillment centers, prep companies and storage facilities allow you to diversify how you manage your inventory. If you sell on your own ecommerce store or have large/oversize items, a fulfillment center will help you reduce your fees substantially.

I would still suggest you to use FBA if most of your sales come from Amazon, however, ideally you would want to expand into other sales channels. By using a FC you would have ultimate control on pricing and customer experience.

In next week’s blog post we will talk about Product Branding. Manuel will guide you on the best practices on how to brand your product effectively and create stunning inserts and marketing materials.

We hope this blog post was helpful and as always, if you have any questions, kindly leave a comment below.

All the best and happy selling,

Duncan

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Existenzangst or fearing for one’s existence

Totally off topic today but I feel like sharing this famous German paranoia. In German we have a saying which is called “Existenzangst” and literally means being afraid of loosing your livelihood. 

Meaning you are constantly afraid of loosing your job, income, running out of money and ending up on the street. It’s ridiculous but ever since I’ve become an Entrepreneur I have this almost every day.

I admit, I too am scared (or anxious) and worry all the time so I wanted to get to the bottom of this. Am I the only one feeling like this? Let me try to get this off my chest. 

What’s the worst that could happen to me today? I am really just typing as I go and put out my thoughts. 

I really want to evaluate my very own situation and if you also have these “existence fears” feel free to do the same :) 

Lets take a look:

  • Amazon business tanks (30% of my income) 
  • Sourcing & Retail business tanks (30% of my income) 
  • Online courses, workshops, ebooks (20% of my income) 
  • Coaching, consulting (10% of my income) 
  • My eCommerce store tanks (10% of my income – just started)
  • All podcast & other interviews magically disappear and no one ever hears of me from tomorrow on (no income but leads and subscribers to my blog) 

Lets look at it in more detail: 

  • I am live on 3 Amazon market places and even if one tanks I still have 2. And I am not even live on many other sites that have third party selling (Lazada, Jet, Sears etc.) 
  • All my satisfied customers and potential leads that I built in over 3 years disappear tomorrow. I have many repeat sourcing clients who are very happy, how likely is it that they all disappear? 
  • I am currently live in 5 retailers, some re-order every month or so. I am even working on more retail customers. 
  • I have courses live on 5 platforms. Some with coaching, some without. How likely is it that they all get removed? Especially on my own site…
  • No one ever thinks my opinion or expertise counts and doesn’t book coaching with me anymore. I have built a reputation (I hope :) ) for being an expert in my field and I rather provide value than sell something just for the money.  Those that really know me well know thats true. So I guess that is very unlikely to happen. 
  • Just started with 1 eCommerce store (Outdoor & Garden category) and it’s going well so far. eCommerce is the future so even if I loose this I can build another store quickly. 
  • I gave about 30 podcast interviews, 4 or 5 actual print magazine interviews, 10-15 online blog guest posts, I spoke publicly at conferences and videos are available on that. Even so, I could start all over again and build my reputation from the scratch. 

Even though some of the above may be possible to happen but it is very unlikely that they all happen at the same time right? So what am I really worried about? Guess I am just another human :) 

Lets say one of these 30% income streams tanks. I still have 70% of my income and need to find a new way to make up for the missing 30%. 

Since I will still have 70% of my income & I’ll  actually be in a comfortable situation. And I would just have to increase workload for a few months. 

Lets just say all of this happens at once. It is not the end of the world. I still have some savings and my health. While I don’t really like the idea of going back to a job I have over 3 years where I ran multiple business and built income streams from the scratch. 

I’ll likely go apply for a job at a retailer’s buying office (Amazon, Walmart) here in Hong Kong and on top of my 17 years of retail experience I now have 3 years of running my own business, a best seller book about importing from China and a round of online courses, interviews, public speaking that I can add to my CV. So I am pretty sure that I will find a job again. And that’s really worst case scenario.

Then again lets take another scenario. Let’s just say I lost all my income streams but I still have saved up lets say 50,000US$ from all these ventures. Would I immediately look for a new job? Probably not. Reason being that I have yet to travel the world and see things. Not that I haven’t traveled yet but I haven’t really TRAVELED yet. I mean hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the US for 6 months, going to Machu Picchu in Peru, living on a beach hut in Brazil for a year and so much more to do. And the best thing is when you travel on a budget or do what’s called “Geo Arbitrage” you don’t need much. Don’t know what that is? Geo Arbitrage is when you live in Thailand (or anywhere else where you have low living costs) for 500$ a month on the beach eating seafood and drink coconut water all day. Obviously if I would have a child, a car, a mortgage etc. things would be different and I’d have to get a job pretty quickly. But again – it’’s not the end of the world.

Think of the time that you worked for yourself as a time out in where you enhanced your own skills, tested your leadership abilities and hopefully had a lot of fun doing it. And you’ve added things to your CV. You didn’t really take time off for 3 years doing nothing, you tried to build something. And that’s worth something when you sit at an interview. I am pretty sure that will get you the job. 

But lets not get ahead of myself, I work hard every day so that I can keep doing what I am doing. And I guess you are too :) 

My message today I guess is that we should all stop worrying so much. It isn’t as bad as it looks like. My second message today and I keep saying this to everyone – DIVERSIFY

Just by looking at what I wrote I again realized myself how important it is to have different income streams. AND it is another reminder to build even more income streams. 

An income stream that is bigger than 30% is actually worrying – unless you make millions anyway :) 

Back in the day when I worked for the lighting manufacturer one of our biggest clients (a very large DIY store) went belly up. Over 500 stores (thats big for Germany) closed over the next couple of months and suppliers (the company I worked for) weren’t going to see any money anytime soon. That customer made up over 70% of the companies turnover. Thankfully the management saw this coming and invested into hiring sales staff and building more clients. But it was still a big loss for the company. Anyway, just a small story but same principle. Build more income streams and you don’t have to worry all the time. 

If you have these fears once in a while sit down and look at what you’ve built already since you joined the entrepreneurial world. 

Copy my thought process above and see where you stand. Look at what you have already accomplished. Let me know in the comment section, I am really curios to know if I am the only one feeling this way :) 

Even if you are just at the beginning and scared of the path in front of you, if you never try you’ll never know and you’ll miss out – I promise :) 

All the best to us in 2017 and happy sourcing!

Manuel 

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How-to-steps when prepping and labeling in China

Today I wanted to walk you through the process of placing the order with your factory and which steps you need to take to guarantee safe delivery.

The following is crucial when you start out and are looking to save costs because of a tight budget or wanting to learn the ropes when it comes to working with factories in China.
I actually recommend that you handle your first order with factories in China yourself so that you are aware of all the steps that need to be taken.

As time passes and you enlarge your assortment you should be focusing on developing your business, adding new products, travelling to exhibitions and you will have less and less time to manage your factory orders.
At this point I recommend you to let professionals in China take care of your orders who have been doing this for years, actually sitting in China, easing the communication with suppliers because of the same time zone and local language but many more reasons.

WIthout further ado here are the steps to be taken that I go trough once we I am ready to place an order to a factory:

Step by step guide when shipping directly to Amazon:

Once you have agreed on all terms with the factory (price, MOQ, etc.) you should request the Proforma Invoice and below details.

STEP 1: Creation of Product Listing

  1. Supplier must send you all details concerning the product and its packaging in order for you to create a listing on Amazon (if you haven’t done that yet) This includes:
    – Product pictures (if they don’t have good ones you should ask for a final sample to be sent to your photographer of choice)
    – Product measurements and weights
    – Packaging unit measurements and weights
    – Export carton measurements and weights
    – Factory address and contact details (needed to create the shipment plan on Amazon)
    – Die-cut of the packaging (in order for you to create an artwork –if needed)
  2. With these details you then need to go onto Amazon Seller Central and click “add a product”. Ideally your items are unique therefore we recommend you to create a new listing.
  3. Latest at this stage you will need to purchase either an UPC (for the US) or EAN barcode (for Europe).
  4. Create the general product listing with the details that you have from the supplier. Please note that you do not need to enter all bullet points or descriptions at this point. You can do so while the product and order is being placed.
  5. Once you have finished the product listing Seller Central will automatically take you to “send & replenish” meaning that you are now in the process of creating the shipment labels and plans for this product. If it does not take you there automatically please go to: “Manage FBA Inventory” in the tabs on Seller Central. Tick the product listing and select “send/replenish”. If the product is not there yet give it about an hour before the listing shows up.
  6. Now you will have to create the shipment labels for the factory to apply to your cartons.
  7. To do so you will have to follow the instructions of Seller Central and populate the fields accordingly.
  8. Enter the units per case (export carton) and number of cases (export cartons). You can gather this information from the packaging & units per packaging that the supplier sent you under step 1).
    For example:
    If you order 1000 pieces of a garlic press. The supplier will give you the unit per packaging and number of export carton. For example the supplier packs 50 pieces in an export carton meaning there will be a total of 20 export cartons (1000 units in total). Enter this information in the fields.
  9. Under “prepare and label products” choose “Merchant” in both cases. Meaning the supplier will apply the labels for you at the factory.
  10. The next step will be to “complete shipment”.
  11. Once you press complete select: “work on shipment”.
  12. You will now be asked as to how things will be shipped.
  13. Select SPD (Small parcel delivery) if cartons are below 20 pieces and or weight of total shipment is LESS than 150LBS (75KG).
  14. Choose Shipper as “other”.
  15. Select LTL (Less than truckload) if shipment is more than 20 cartons and or total shipment weight is MORE than 150LBS (75KG)
  16. Select “multiple boxes” under shipment option or “more than one SKU per case”.
  17. Select “webform”.
  18. Enter the units per case (per export cartons) and number of cases (export cartons) as well as the weight. Again this is the information that you receive from the supplier under Step 1.
  19. Check all information is correct and confirm shipment.
  20. You will now be able to print shipment labels.
  21. Click on “print labels” and save the PDF on your computer.
  22. Send this PDF together with further documents under Step 2 to the supplier. (send once you have completed all steps to avoid dripping information to the supplier as this irritates them).

STEP 2: Logo’s/barcodes/insert card

  1. If you have your own logo or artwork for the unit packaging send the logo in .AI or .EPS file to the supplier.
  2. Advise the supplier where you would like to have your logo placed onto the packaging. E.g. if you want your logo on top of the packaging and the barcode underneath tell them so.
  3. If you have no logo advise the factory only to print the barcode on the unit packaging. However I recommend you to have at least a written company name on the unit packaging.
  4. If you have UPC or EAN barcodes that you purchased under point 3) above send these barcodes in .AI or .EPS file to the supplier.
  5. If you have your own artwork design of the entire packaging send the entire artwork including barcodes, logos, photos and description. The supplier should be able to send you the die-cut that you need to create an
    artwork under point 1) above.
  6. If you have no artwork designed and only wish to ship the product in a white box with logo and barcode on it advise the supplier of this.
  7. If you wish to include an insert card that for example has your company name and instructions on how to use the product send the insert card to them.

STEP 3: Order placement and order instructions

  1. Before you place the order and get started with production I advise to send all files as described above in one go. Again, this should include:
    – UPC or EAN barcode
    – Export carton shipping labels
    – FNSKU barcode that you can print in the shipment plan under “prepare and label products”. This is only needed if for example you are re-ordering or listing your product under an existing item on Amazon.
    – Artwork design (if any)
    – Your own logo (if any)
    – Insert card (if any)
  2. If any of the above is applicable but missing from your side I recommend to collect/prepare all information first. However in most cases you can send artworks and insert card to the factory at a later stage but should not later than 25 days before production.
  3. An example email of how to instruct a supplier with labels can be found here: http://importdojo.com/how-to-properly-place-an-order-with-factories-in-china/ 

STEP 4: Order placement

  1. If you have not placed the order yet now is the time to place the order together with all your documents as described above and instruct the supplier accordingly.
  2. FNSKU/UPC’s etc. need to go onto the gift box/unit box. Usually at the bottom of the box or a small side
  3. Shipping labels need to be put onto the outer side of the export carton. Seller Central will give you a PDF with a number of all labels (according to your order quantity)
  4. Pallet labels apply when you ship by pallets. This is usually recommended above 20-30 cartons.
  5. The supplier should now arrange the order and production with your above instructions.
  6. Follow up your order and book inspection, shipment and final samples if necessary

Most importantly: Have an inspection!

I know,I know I keep saying it but yet I still hear so many horror stories in Facebook groups that people didn’t have an inspection. When you book an inspection (and those services start at 100$) you can instruct the inspector to check all of the above to make sure the supplier followed them through.

If your supplier forgot labels, barcodes or insert cards for example this can be found during an inspection. You want a hassle free delivery to Amazon’s warehouse and an inspection is therefore a must.

Monitoring your order is very important to keep the supplier engaged with your order and not to miss important deadlines.

Here is an overview of how we at ImportDojo handle order follow up after Step 4:

STEP 5: Follow up
1) We will now keep you updated with the order completion date as well as any inspection date
2) We will keep you informed on the shipment booking and arrangement
3) We will advise you when inspection will be done and when the result is out
4) We will advise you when inspection is pass, shipment picked up and on its way to Amazon. If inspection is not pass we will inform you immediately and work together with you to find solutions. In 90% of all cases if the inspection is not pass it is only because of minor defects like scratches.
5) If inspection is pass we will inform the shipper to pick up the goods.
6) The final payment of the order is now to be made to the supplier (usually the remaining 70%) before shipment is released from the supplier.
7) A shipping company that we recommend will now pick up the goods and arrange the transport as well as appointment booking with the Amazon warehouse. If you wish to have the goods delivered to your own warehouse or other address please tell us once we place the order to the supplier.
8) We will inform you once goods have landed in the US and are to be delivered to Amazon.
9) You should get a notification from Seller Central as soon as goods are being checked-in.

All done!

Please note that you should advise your supplier before hand that he has to print labels and stickers to be put on your packagings export cartons BEFORE receiving the Proforma Invoice.
If you tell the supplier at a later stage that there will be labels and stickers to be applied they might charge you more.

 

More information and email templates on how to properly place orders in China also here:
http://importdojo.com/how-to-properly-place-an-order-with-factories-in-china/

Hope this helps you guys in determining what you need in terms of labels, insert cards etc.
Please feel free to share this post :)

All the best and happy sourcing,
Manuel

CE Steele pl v

Private labels & packaging differences

Private labels & packaging differences

 

Introduction

The obvious and most profitable way to create sales is a private label with a nice packaging.

In German we say “Eine gute Verpackung ist die halbe Miete” which literally translated means “ A nice packaging is half the rent” or in other words with a nice packaging you “win half the battle”.

Meaning that a nice packaging will convince your customers to buy your product by 50% already. That saying even goes when you are selling online and your customers won’t even see your packaging.

BUT say you sell online and your customer receives your item and he sees the nice packaging he sure will give a better review just because the packaging is nice already.

Note: Even if you sell online, you should put a picture (high resolution) or even a 3D-rendering picture amongst your product listing so that customers can see your packaging.

It is even easier if you sell offline (in retail stores). Just think about it, how often have you made a decision buying a product because the packaging was nice.

Look at Apple’s packaging.

Nice and clean, no fancy colors, UV coating (the logo and product), clear and to the point descriptions with high resolution photos. They got me, I buy their products also based on their packaging.

Now lets look at the different options in packaging’s.

 

Differences in Packaging

 

You basically have 3 options:

– Private label packaging (color box or white box with private label sticker)

– No name packaging

– White box

 

Private label packaging:

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